Friday 17 August 2012

'U.S.-seized terracotta not stolen from Nigeria's national museum'

By Tajudeen Sowole
THE Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Abdallah Yusuf Usman, has challenged the claim that the terracotta recently intercepted by the United States security units were stolen from the National Museum.

Usman stated: “The claim that the recently intercepted terracotta pieces in U.S. were stolen from National Museum in Lagos is absolutely false.”

A few weeks ago, the Consular-General of Nigeria in the U.S. took repossession of stolen terracotta objects rescued by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in U.S.  The objects were allegedly stolen from the National Museum in Nigeria.

But the NCMM, a few days ago, recalled that “a very large number of Nigeria’s priceless artefacts left the country’s shores long before it came into being as an independent nation. The high point was the infamous assault on Benin in 1897.  Dispossessing Nigerians of their heritage went on throughout the period of colonial domination and more recently, it has been rearing its ugly head through looting of heritage, archaeological sites and museums.”
NCMM, therefore, stated that it considered the return of all these objects an issue of paramount importance, saying that that was why it was paying quality attention to it, including setting up of a special unit to handle it.

Usman explained that the National Museum, since 1996 had not recorded any theft of antiquities from its collections. He stated that “no object has been stolen from any Nigerian museum since the last series of burglaries in the early 1990s. Even then, the Lagos Museum was not involved and all the stolen pieces were put on ICOM red list. Indeed, many of them have since been recovered and returned to the museums.”

The statement read in part: “The looting of heritage archaeological sites and museums has been an age-long and worldwide problem. In Nigeria, the problem reached epidemic proportions in the 1990s when Nok and North-western Nigeria’s (Kwatarkwoshi) archaeological sites were massively raped and ripped of their priceless objects. These objects were spread throughout Western Europe and the USA illustrating the devastating scale of the problem.

“While the problem abated in the beginning of the new millennium, recent field studies indicate that it has not fully stopped.

“At the onset of the present Management of the NCMM in 2009, under the leadership of Yusuf Abdallah Usman, the issue of looting of archaeological sites by illegal diggers reduced due to the use of a multi-pronged approach.  Within the past three years, the Commission has embarked on several sensitisation programmes involving law enforcement agencies, media, local community and traditional rulers in Abuja and Kaduna and also in the rural areas, especially at Nok and Janjala. In the meantime, approval to employ 600 security and craftsmen to police our heritage site is awaiting cash backing from the budget office.

“From the legal perspective, the Commission has made substantial progress in its bid to review its laws with a view to tightening the loose ends against the smuggling of antiquities. This review will give the NCMM the power to the unequivocal proclamation that all antiquities buried under the ground are the property of the Federal Government of Nigeria. It will also make it possible for the Commission’s antiquities’ inspectors to search and arrest, with or without warrant, malefactors. The NCMM will equally be endowed through provisions in the reviewed law with the power of prosecuting offenders.”

On the issue involving the NCMM and artefact vendors, the Commission disclosed that it has acquired very good and invaluable objects, stating that in recent times due to dwindling financial resources, it has not been able to pay as at when due.

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